This summer I had been having fun working on a Windows 8 RT C# application. I decided to take the momentum of learning a new language and platform and apply that to getting certified. To earn a Microsoft Certified Solutions Develop for Windows Store Apps Using C# you need to pass three tests of increasing specialization, 70-483, 70-484, and 70-485.
Exam 70-483: Programming in C#
The first of three exams was 70-483 on programming in C# which I felt pretty good about already. A few other developers had written a few Microsoft 70-483 exam preparation guides and more than one suggestion to read Pro C# 5.0 and the .NET 4.5 Framework which was a intimidating tome to start with. This was easily the most difficult test to prepare for because C# is an enormous language when you start looking under the covers and getting into the details. After reading the book cover to cover and going back through a few times I felt pretty confident about passing the test. Needless to say I was really disappointed to fail it the first time out. They don’t leave you blind and told me the general areas I needed to brush up on. I spent another two weeks going back over everything an hour or two each night before psyching myself up to take another stab at the exam. It was quite a relief to pass the first of three exams. I didn’t realize it before taking the test but passing also gave me my first certification step. In three months of work over the summer I became a Microsoft Specialist in Programming using C# complete with a logo I can use.
Exam 70-484: Essentials of Developing Windows Store Apps Using C#
I took a well deserved break for a week before starting my studies for the next exam, 70-484 on the Essentials of Developing Windows Store Apps Using C#. Here it started to get a lot more interesting as this is what I had already been working on for the last few months. It was at this time I found the Microsoft Virtual Academy and my study methods changed drastically. I did continue reading on the bus and picked up Exam Ref 70-484: Essentials of Developing Windows Store Apps Using C#, but I also started watching Jerry Nixon and Daren May present the video training Windows Store App Development Essentials with C#. As an aside, the MVA is an incredible resource, and I really enjoyed watching and learning from both Jerry and Daren over many hours of video. After finishing up both the book and video I went on to pass this exam on my first try. The sum of knowledge I was building up was obviously cumulative. Understanding what to expect, the exam conditions, familiarity with the facility I think all helped to make this happen in just a couple of months.
Exam 70-485: Advanced Windows Store App Development Using C#
Feeling like I was on a roll at this point I dove right in to prepare for the final test, 70-485 on Advanced Windows Store App Development Using C#. I started reading on the recommended book Exam Ref 70-485: Advanced Windows Store App Development Using C# and MVA video training Advanced Windows Store App Development Using C# immediately. There was a sense of urgency at this point because the reading material and videos (at the time I was watching them) were about to be out of date! Microsoft was updating the series for the new Windows 8.1 release and additional features. Before I was done with any of the study material I signed myself up for a November 30th test date. It was going to be all or nothing because if I didn’t pass then it would set me back another month to go over new material. I spent all my free time studying to cram it all in before the test and my effort was well rewarded. I passed that morning, and I was elated that I had completed my personal challenge to become a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer. I’m excited to share with you my new certification logo as well, so shiny.
MCSD and the Future
No certification process covers every piece of possible material, and I am not coming out the other side of this experience knowing all the answers in Windows Store app development. I would do the process again for sure, and I’m probably going to get re-certified in two years. This was a long standing dream of mine that I was able to seize this year and I’m now I’ve got to make my next step. Thanks MVA, Daren May, and Jerry Nixon for putting together the videos and my wife for giving up so much free time.
Heading toward the app submission finish line with our new Windows 8 Store App I was wrapping up the remaining functional bugs and we had a moment to breath. Of course with that extra time I started to poke around at performance and asked about our expected usage. They didn’t have an idea so we pull some heavy usage tests out of thin air and threw them at the application. It buckled, taking just over a minute to start the main process after connecting to a server. The Visual Studio tools for profiling and performance analysis are awesome, but were grayed out for my application! I could only do CPU profiling using the build in performance wizard so I started looking elsewhere. Specifically it would not let me do the Visual Studio Performance Wizard for Implementation or Memory profiling. I downloaded every application that was recommended on StackOverflow but SciTech Memory Profiler was what did it for me.
Installation was pretty simple, it integrated right into Visual Studio. I built my application and pulled it up on one window with the profiler on the other. I loved using the real-time profiling, watching the memory usage rise was fun, and disconcerting. I looked through the function calls, seeing where all my time was being used and it ended up being an inefficiency in how I spooled up a pool of WebViews. There was a still a lingering memory leak though, and after a few more hours of digging around I found out I made a very newbie mistake of not removing my event listeners, which prevented old pages from being garbage collected completely.
I could not get the build in Visual Studio tools to provide any of this functionality, so SciTech was a savior in that respect. One improvement I would like to see however is the ability to debug my application from within the Surface Simulator which I couldn’t figure out how to get working.
My major project of 2012, TheKnot.com Search BETA, launched earlier this month, the morning of December 14th, and it was a journey worth documenting. It began back in May when the company decided to start our own labs or internal incubator groups. One began right away in New York City and the other started a couple weeks later in Austin. I had the opportunity to join the Austin group with a team of developers and product people that I highly respected. I was grinning the whole time with excitement. With the direction that we were independent from the company but had access to the data we sequestered ourselves in a room for a few weeks. Over pots of coffee and pints of beer after work we brainstormed our some good ideas for our brides to find inspiration for their weddings. Our group started out as Judy Galani, Product Strategist, Forrest Andrews and Matt Oehlers, Senior Software Engineers, Erin Bender, Freelance Art Director, and myself as Interactive Media Developer. We “sold” the idea and working prototype to our “investors” by October and it was then time to go from prototype to production.
We had to take the design in house from this point on, but after a fond farewell and thank you to Erin we started to add in more management to the group. It was a greenfield project so our back-end developers Matt and Forrest were excited to push forward into new territories. Within a day or two we were able to deploy projects straight from Visual Studio to the AWS servers, I was blown away. Forrest focused on our MongoDB NoSQL data store and the API that I would later pull all the front-end content from, ASP.NET MVC. Matt worked on massaging the data into Apache Solr and in a matter of days we had an impressive result set coming back for queries.
The front-end technology was built to be a responsive two page website that used a combination ofjQuery and Underscore.js along with HTML and CSS to create a multi-device interface that would be familiar and easy to use. The main grid view uses Masonry to create the Pinterest-esque layout for search results and Underscore.js templates to load in a different layout for different data types. The single page view focuses on a low browser width touch interface to give a very image focused search experience. To combine and minify the page scripts down I used the BundleCollection library in ASP.NET MVC which worked great. There are still a large number of extra scripts on the page but I’ve tried to load them asynchronously and not let them interfere with using the interface immediately.
The site has been up and working great for a few weeks now and launched along side a new look and feel for TheKnot.com. Go take a look, and of course let me know if you find any bugs here or on the feedback tab on the bottom!